August 2, 2012

Civil rights legends to discuss leadership at public lecture

The Rev. James Lawson
The Rev. James Lawson

A public conversation between the Rev. James Lawson, a major civil rights leader who worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to implement the principles of nonviolence, and John Seigenthaler, who worked in the United States Department of Justice, is scheduled for noon Tuesday, Aug. 14. “The Essentials of Developing Moral Leadership” will be held in Light Hall, Room 208.

Lawson was an activist during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He moved to Nashville and enrolled at Vanderbilt Divinity School, where he began conducting nonviolence training workshops before his expulsion in 1960. While at Vanderbilt, Lawson met and mentored young students from the university, as well as Fisk, Meharry and other local institutions, in the tactics of nonviolent direct action. He trained many of the future leaders of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Lawson helped organize sit-ins by African American students, which led to the end of racial segregation of lunch counters in downtown Nashville. He also was active in civil rights struggles in Alabama and Mississippi. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. dubbed him “the leading nonviolence theorist in the world.”

After leaving Vanderbilt, Lawson received his divinity degree from Boston University. He was later recognized by Vanderbilt as its 2005 Distinguished Alumnus and returned to the university in 2006 as a Distinguished University Professor for several years. He currently resides in Los Angeles, where he spearheaded California State University-Northridge’s Civil Discourse and Social Change initiative as a visiting faculty member for the 2011-12 academic year.

John Seigenthaler
John Seigenthaler

Seigenthaler is an American journalist, writer and political figure. He played a major role during the Kennedy administration in defending the rights of students and others to demonstrate non-violently for their civil rights, and was sometimes placed in danger for his actions. He was often called on to serve as mediator in tense situations where civil rights were being challenged.

Seigenthaler is known as a prominent defender of First Amendment rights. In 1991, he founded the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, saying it was his hope that the center at Vanderbilt would help promote appreciation and understanding for those values so vital in a democratic society. The center serves as a forum for dialogue about First Amendment issues, including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

Seigenthaler served for 43 years as an award-winning journalist for The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper. At the time of his retirement he was editor, publisher and CEO. He later served as the founding editorial director of USA Today. Seigenthaler hosts a weekly public television book-review program, A Word On Words. A senior advisory trustee of the Freedom Forum, he is chair of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Awards for the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights.

A recent book written by Congressman John Lewis, Across That Bridge, speaks to some of the principles of moral leadership and will be noted. Copies are available by calling Patricia Turner at (615) 322-2151 or George C. Hill, assistant vice chancellor for multicultural affairs at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, at (615) 322-0976.

The event is sponsored by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt.

Contact: Patricia Turner, (615) 322-2151